Jun 18, 2008

Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies Asks Congress to Maintain Local Water Treatment Choice

AMWA resists legislation that would allow the federal government to force utilities to change their treatment methods

Testifying on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) before the House Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials on June 12, Brad Coffey of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California urged Congress to resist proposed legislation that would empower the federal government to override local experts and force individual drinking water utilities to change their water treatment methods. A federal mandate requiring the use of so-called “inherently safer technologies,” Coffey said, would fail to recognize the risk tradeoffs and public health considerations local officials must contemplate when selecting the best water treatment method.

Legislation pending before the committee (H.R. 5577, the “Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Act”) would empower the Department of Homeland Security to evaluate local water treatment methods and possibly force “high-risk” water systems to adopt alternate treatment methods. The legislation passed the Homeland Security Committee in March, but members of the Energy and Commerce Committee have voiced concerns about the proposal infringing on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jurisdiction over water plants, and utility managers have warned that the bill could be used to target the use of gaseous chlorine.

Coffey explained that his district has considered a variety of potential water treatment methods, but for several reasons determined that chlorine gas remains its best and most reliable disinfectant option. For example, some treatment methods that some groups promote as “inherently safer” would increase chemical discharges from the facility or require vast increases in deliveries of chemicals to the treatment plant. A copy of the testimony is available on AMWA’s security information webpage at www.amwa.net/cs/security.

Several members of the subcommittee indicated a desire to strengthen EPA’s regulatory oversight of water system security, but it is not yet clear if a legislative proposal to do so will advance to the House floor this year. The current DHS chemical security program, which does not cover water facilities, expires in October 2009.